Southern hopes to avoid furlough

Brennan Stebbins

One week after the announcement that University of Missouri System President Gary Forsee has been granted furlough powers, speculation continues on the possibility of similar measures at schools across the state.

Forsee requested to the UM System Board of Curators the power to force system employees to take time off without pay, and his authority to do so runs through the end of June.

In a Tuesday email to faculty concerning Southern’s economic situation, University President Bruce Speck said he hopes to avoid resorting to furloughs.

“We also hope not to enact that dreadful furlough idea that has been going around higher education,” Speck said.

Dwight Douglas, chairman of the Board of Governors, said the idea hasn’t been discussed by the Board, but didn’t rule out the possibility of granting furlough power.

“We will make every effort to avoid laying people off and we are currently exploring other options,” Douglas said.

“I have no opinion on what the University of Missouri does,” Douglas added. “I’m going to leave what they do up to them.”

At Missouri Western State University, Southern’s sister school, Mel Klinkner said he was worried about problems that could arise if the school resorted to furloughs.

“Southern and Western are fairly young,” said Klinkner, who serves as Western’s vice president for financial planning. “Number one, we haven’t had all the years of funding others have had and that longevity to get your staffing where you need it to be, so I would be very concerned about that from the simple fact we have a growing enrollment and with very lean staff you want to continue to provide service to our students as they’re coming in and so forth. Furloughing would create some real customer service issues, I would think, because we want to leave staffing the way it is.”

Klinkner said Western is taking a wait-and-see approach until a solid budget picture emerges from Jefferson City.

“It depends on what the Legislature does,” Klinkner said. “If we’re at Gov. Nixon’s proposal then I would say we would just continue to do what we are doing. Be very careful with any open positions and not fill them at the time being if we can.”

Nixon proposed a cap on tuition and academic fees at state colleges and universities in exchange for keeping state appropriations at their Fiscal Year 2009 levels. The plan must be approved by the General Assembly.

Ken McClure, vice president for administrative and information services at Missouri State University, also said furlough power hasn’t been discussed at his school.

“We’ve made it clear our priorities are to maintain jobs,” McClure said. “That’s been an emphasis all the way through.”

Missouri State is using some of the same strategies as Southern and Western to avoid furloughs or layoffs.

“Certainly these are challenging times,” McClure said. “We’re being very, very careful with our expenditures. We’re urging all of our college and administrative departments on firing. We do hav ea lot of positions being held open to save some funds. The biggest issue right now is we’re still not certain how all the appropriation funding will come out. The Gov. has made his recommendation but it still has to go through the Legislature so until we have more clear understanding, the best idea is to be very prudent and cautious.”

Mike Moss, custodial staff member at Southern, said it’s up to Speck to improve the schools financial situation, however he decides to do it.

“He’s the man making the decisions,” Moss said. “What can you do?

“He’s going to do whatever he wants to make this a solvent university again.”